I finally looked the word up. I thought I knew that it meant an outspoken, hot-tempered woman — a shrew, in fact. My dictionary (Webster’s Third International: old school) offered “termagant” as a synonym. Don’t you love the word “termagant?” I hope to use it soon. But Webster’s also offered me “a woman of great stature, strength, and courage: one possessing supposedly masculine qualities of body and mind.” The root, of course, is the Latin vir, or man. The adjective, thrillingly, is “viraginous.”
When Virago Modern Classics began appearing back in the 1970s I assumed the name of the imprint referred to the supposedly shrewish, outspoken qualities of women. But I must have had it wrong. Virago, in this instance, probably referred to women of stature and courage — a wonderful name for an entity that published forgotten books by women.
Which brings me to the Virago Reading Week organized this month by Rachel of Book Snob and Carolyn of A Few of My Favourite Books. Latest news from Rachel is that it will kick off on Monday January 24, ending Sunday January 30. I was incredibly impressed by the spreadsheet put together by the Virago Modern Classics group on Librarything. For reviews, check Verity’s Virago Venture. I expect to do the bibliophile’s version of “shopping in your closet,” i.e. shopping on my book shelf. Antonia White’s Frost in May and Elizabeth Taylor’s Palladian beckon, but I might also fall into the entertaining arms of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd.
So all that remains to be determined is how we pronounce the word. VirAYgo? VirAHgo? I await instructions.